Mr. Speaker, we are now at third reading of Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products. We were debating it at second reading not even a month ago. My colleagues in committee really worked together to properly study this bill and to agree on amendments that would clarify certain aspects related to the protection of personal information. Clarifying these aspects is absolutely necessary, since the public expects the government, institutions and the legislation to ensure that their personal information is protected.
I cannot help but smile though. We went through the whole process two times already, the first time with Bill C-52 and the second time with Bill C-6. I have to wonder whether, now that we are so close to the goal, the Prime Minister will call an election or prorogue Parliament. That is what he did the last two times.
The members opposite find that funny. I think that the Minister of Health will talk to the Prime Minister to ensure that nothing like that happens and that Bill C-36 will make it through. The minister keeps saying, as we have been doing, that the current act is 40 years old and that it is time to update it. The Auditor General produced a report four years ago that revealed several problems and also highlighted the risks related to consumer products. We cannot wait any longer to move forward with this bill.
Canada is not the only country to be tightening up its legislation. I want to talk about what happened south of the border, in the United States. On August 14, 2008, the then president, George W. Bush, signed the Danny Keysar Child Product Safety Notification Act. This act set new, modern standards and strengthened the legislation on toy safety. Thus, the American agency responsible for overseeing the safety of consumer products was given measures that enabled it to have better control over toys. This legislation assigned more responsibilities, expanded authority and granted related powers to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the CPSC.
Since 2009, the agency has gradually been requiring that manufacturers and importers certify that their products meet the new standards, requiring that companies have their products tested by an independent third party and imposing harsher sanctions for non-compliance with product safety requirements. The law also proposed an increase in the agency's budget every year until 2015, as well as an increase in staff of at least 500 employees by 2013 in order to effectively enforce the new safety standards.
On September 10, 2009, the chair of the CPSC, Inez Tenenbaum, testified before the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, saying that she intends to make her agency a world leader in consumer protection.
With that statement in mind, I hope that it is also the government's intention, following the passage of this new bill, to see to it that we, too, are leaders in terms of consumer protection by ensuring that our consumers are buying safe products.
Throughout my speech, I will refer to elements that have been included in the American legislation to ensure that there is no shortage of money or inspectors to enforce this law. That is what we also need to see on this side of the border to ensure that we can do the important work of strengthening the current law, which dates back 40 years.
Now I would like to read the bill summary because it serves to explain the scope of this new legislation, which I hope will be passed quickly.
This enactment modernizes the regulatory regime for consumer products in Canada. It creates prohibitions with respect to the manufacturing, importing, selling, advertising, packaging and labelling of consumer products, including those that are a danger to human health or safety. In addition, it establishes certain measures that will make it easier to identify whether a consumer product is a danger to human health or safety and, if so, to more effectively prevent or address the danger. It also creates application and enforcement mechanisms. This enactment also makes consequential amendments to the Hazardous Products Act.
That is the scope of the bill.
At second reading, I made several statements and asked a number of other questions that must be answered by meeting with officials and talking to the minister so we can be sure this bill really meets the needs and expectations we expressed when we supported Bill C-52 in principle a few years ago.
Speaking of what led to Bill C-36, there was Bill C-6, and before that, Bill C-52. The same bill has come up under three different numbers. I would invite those watching to reread my speech at second reading because I reviewed all of this to explain why the Conservative government took so long to bring this bill forward.
As I said earlier, the committee members worked well together. At this point, I would like to thank my colleague from Repentigny, who worked with me to ensure the Bloc Québécois' presence in committee and who asked excellent questions. Among the answers to the questions the committee had are some questions from the member for Repentigny and the answers provided by officials who appeared before the committee.
When we discussed Bill C-6, a number of people wrote to us to express their concerns about whether Bill C-36 was constitutionally acceptable. I will read the answer provided by Diane Labelle, general counsel, legal services unit, Health Canada, during her appearance before the committee:
As you are well aware, the Minister of Justice is tasked with reviewing each bill in order to ensure that it properly reflects the government's obligations pursuant to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That review was done by the minister and the Department of Justice. Moreover, a bill is also examined to see whether it is well founded, i.e., whether Parliament does indeed have the power to adopt such a bill. In fact, we can confirm that we have conducted such a review and that the bill falls within Parliament's authority regarding criminal matters and properly reflects the government's charter obligations.
Another concern that some of our constituents had a number of questions about was the fact that Bill C-36 could apply to natural health products. They did not want the bill to regulate natural health products any differently. That is clear in subclause 4(3) of the bill, which I referred to in my speech at second reading. I would like to quote it again:
For greater certainty, this Act does not apply to natural health products as defined in subsection 1(1) of the Natural Health Products Regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act.
I thought that was relatively clear in the bill, but I asked the government officials about this anyway. I will now quote myself, which is unusual, but I will in this case:
Could there be a way around this provision so that the bill applies to natural health products?
I was referring to Bill C-36. This is the reply from Athana Mentzelopoulos, the director general of consumer product safety directorate at Health Canada:
No, there is no way. There is a way, but it would have to come back before Parliament to be amended so that the scope of the legislation would be changed—for example, to remove the provision in subclause 4(3). So yes, there is a way, but certainly it would be the purview of parliamentarians to do so.
In response, I asked another question.
But the version we have before us, i.e., Bill C-36, in no way affects natural health products. Is that correct?
In response, Diane Labelle added the following explanation, addressing the chair of the Standing Committee on Health:
...evidently, neither the Governor in Council nor the minister could amend the wording of the legislation. Parliament alone has that authority. Therefore, the wording of the legislation cannot be amended as regards natural health products.
What we can deduce from this is that if Parliament wanted the bill to apply to natural health products, a new bill would have to be introduced in Parliament to amend subclause 4(3), as Ms. Mentzelopoulos indicated.
Another question we raised a number of times during consideration of Bill C-6 and Bill C-36 is whether the number of inspectors is sufficient. As I was saying earlier, the U.S. has truly taken responsibility and considerably increased the number of inspectors. They want to ensure that their legislation has enough teeth to be properly enforced. To the Bloc Québécois, it is clear that we cannot leave it up to industry alone to ensure that the products it puts on the market are safe within the meaning of the law. In committee, we asked whether the number of inspectors was sufficient, and this is what Athana Mentzelopoulos said:
Essentially, there was a recognition that we needed more resources amongst our cadre of inspectors. We have done the analysis to ascertain, for example, where we have.... We want to go where the work is, essentially.
In my own travels recently, as the new DG, I visited with the regions. We do not necessarily have a uniform number of inspectors associated with each region. In British Columbia there is a lot of volume with imports, and we need to make sure we are resourced appropriately. It is the same in Ontario; a considerable extent of industry is found in Ontario. Obviously we would have—and this is the case—more resources in Ontario than we might find in areas where, for example, there is less industry, less import activity. In Quebec as well we have obviously larger numbers; it correlates to going where the work is and making sure that we are addressing the need.
Robert Ianiro, Director of the Consumer Product Safety Bureau, Health Canada, provided the following information in response to our question.
I think part of the answer also is that we've been focusing a lot around solely increasing our capacity of inspectors, which is clearly very important. We are doubling that capacity. By the fifth year of the action plan, 2012-13, in fact we will have overall doubled the entire complement in consumer product safety. We actually will have increased by about 125 employees.
I think it's important to recognize that we also are hiring more analysts to do testing and verification at our laboratory. With the introduction of the general prohibition, there's going to be a lot more research, hazard evaluations, hazard assessments, risk assessments. We're bringing in mandatory incident reporting. We need to have people sitting behind computers triaging the data, analyzing the data. These are all individuals beyond and in addition to the inspectors.
So it's a fairly broad complement of new employees. Inspectors are obviously very critical. We have those who would be devoted to risk assessment, those devoted to standards development. I think also a very critical piece, given the post-market regime of consumer product safety in Canada and worldwide, is the critical importance of outreach. There are also resources and new staff devoted to outreach. That includes outreach to industry in terms of understanding their obligations, as well as outreach to consumers, since we all have a role to play. As regulator, obviously, as government we have a role to play. Consumers have a role to play. Obviously manufacturers and industry have a role to play.
So it's much, much broader than just inspectors.
Based on Mr. Ianiro's comments, it is clear that we will stay on top of this issue. We will make sure that it is not government funding that determines the number of employees responsible for inspections and for proper implementation of the bill, but vice versa. And once we know what is needed on the ground in order to do the work correctly, we need to ensure that the division carrying out the organization and implementation of inspections has enough staff.
As I said earlier, the entire burden cannot be put on the industry. It is obviously in the industry's interest to not have any products recalled or any nasty incidents reported, but the government has the primary responsibility to ensure that this legislation is adopted by Parliament—and quickly, I hope—so that it can be correctly enforced.
I will not have time to talk about two other questions that we had asked about the government's interpretation of the preamble, notably concerning the precautionary principle.
In any case, I would invite citizens who wish to enquire about these answers to do so by visiting the parliamentary website and consulting the transcripts of the committee debates concerning Bill C-36.